TransSiberian Awaits—But Who Cares?

 I’m still stewing about whether to hop aboard the Trans Siberian Railway for a trip across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok. But my goulash just turned cold. Or should I say, cooler.

In a chance click of my TV remote a couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a movie (and at the beginning, no less) titled “Transsiberian.” It was a great movie but as a beckoning travelogue, a real bummer.

WoodyStarring Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley, my friends at the IMDB described this flick as a “Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.” And it was fascinating on several levels.

First, it was an illuminating opportunity to see both Harrelson (Natural Born Killers) and Kingsley (Gandhi, Schindler’s List) in roles decidedly unique to their previous cinematic talents: Kingsley is the friendly and confiding Russian narcotics detective who is later revealed as far more sinister, and Harrelson, the earnest, sincere and, well, almost lovable and naive husband. Amid many twists and turns, it was well-worth the 111 minutes I spent watching murder, mayhem, and near-death aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway.

But the movie raised problems for me since I’m contemplating the exact same trip—without the murder, drug smuggling and rapes. Much of the film was shot during the Slavic winter: cold, snowy, and windy—made all the worse by my big-screen TV that makes it seem like you’re watching the drama unfold from box seats in a snow drift. I could almost feel the sub-zero wind-chills as the train snaked its way through a bleak and unforgiving landscape. And frankly, since I live in Minnesota where we’re experiencing a winter that just won’t quit (Note: this is April 22 and six more inches of snow are forecast for tonight), winter has really worn out its welcome at my house.

Second, taken as a whole, the film demonstrated the more mundane, pedestrian, and ordinary side of Russian train stations, hotels, and sights. Yeah, I know it was not meant to be the Russian version of Roman Holiday; it was a murder mystery. But it was off-putting, nonetheless. Those images stick in my mind.

Finally, I’m told by the late Roger Ebert that “Tourists in Russia are welcomed where tourists go, but the Russians they meet in this movie are poor, bitter and transsiberianhostile.” And when coupled with the fact that the locals are venting their hostilities in harsh, Slavonic tones, you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of the discourse. Ebert was critiquing the movie, of course, but the takeaway is hardly a recommendation for someone who wants to be a welcome traveler as he rides the rails in a strange country. And all that snow atop dead bodies only adds salt to the wound, if such a thing is possible.

Well, I’m not entirely disheartened. It was, after all, only a movie. The trip is still in the cards, but I think I’ll trek Minnesota Superior Hiking Trail first. Then I expect to take off for an extended tour of Europe on the rails. If I feel the urge, I can pick up the Trans-Siberian in London or Moscow.

Now for a couple of updates.

The Great TradeKing Experiment

If you read about my earlier blogs about finding a broker that could dependably execute trades for preferred stocks on the OTC, I must report that I junked my account with TradeKing. Yes, they did execute one OTC trade for me, but it turned out the stock was so readily available that I probably could have bought shares at a local Wal-Mart. No particular trading expertise was required.

But then I tried to buy another stock, one which was much more scarce, and they failed to execute. The deciding factor that sent TradeKing packing, however, was their silly rule on placing online trades of OTC preferred stocks. You may recall that they place a $10,000 cap on online OTC orders. Never mind that these preferred stocks will be available OTC only briefly — a few days at most — before moving to their permanent home on the NYSE. Their one-size-fits-all protocol is all-inclusive. You have to place larger trades by telephone. That means you’ve got to talk to a broker. That stupid. I thought I had seen the last of broker-placed trades in the 1980s, for God’s sake. In short, I’m looking again.

My Quarterly Report

Yeah, I know you’re dying to read the latest report card on my foray into trading preferred stocks on margin with the same enthusiasm as watching a slideshow of my recent trip to Beijing. Well, have no fear; this is likely to be my last report, since, if you’re not brave enough to trade preferreds on margin, my results will come off as just so much unwarranted braggadocio. And who needs that?

During the first quarter of using this self-designed trading strategy, I earned an actual return on investment of 7.014 percent. Of course, if you extrapolate those three months to a full year, you’ll easily see that my annual ROI will be upwards of 28 percent. And that sure beats the crappy return of 1 percent on bank savings. No bragging here. Just hard cold cash. Take it or leave it.

–Charlie the RT


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